Draft Watch: Top players to catch in tourney

Arizona center DeAndre Ayton is expected to be a force in the NBA.

Without question, Arizona center DeAndre Ayton will be the most-watched prospect heading into this week’s NCAA tournament. Most scouts have him pegged as the likely No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

When it comes to the NBA, no one has been deterred by the FBI investigation into Ayton’s recruitment by the Wildcats. The 7-foot center has size, skills and a winning attitude — and that’s mostly all scouts care about.

But Ayton is not alone. The upcoming draft is considered one of the deepest in years, and much of the talent will be on display during March’s party of college basketball madness.

Here is a look at some of the other projected first-rounders taking part in the tourney:

Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, Duke. Bagley is a 6-foot-11 power forward, Carter is a 6-10 forward and center. Bagley is considered a top-five prospect, Carter a top 10 (maybe even top-five, too). Also, Blue Devils shooting guard Grayson Allen is projected to land somewhere in the late-first or early-second round. How he performances in the tourney could determine which it is.

Michael Porter, Missouri. A 6-10 forward, Porter was the consensus No. 1 before back surgery sidelined him for all of his freshman regular season. But he made his long-awaited debut last week, scoring 12 points in 20 minutes in an SEC tourney loss to Georgia. Porter is merely auditioning for draft position at this point. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, Michigan State. Jackson and Bridges are two more big men in a projected draft class loaded with them. Jackson Jr. could fall in the top five, depending on how he fares now. Meanwhile, Bridge’s position is hard to determine. At 6-7, he has the game of a power forward but the size of a small forward. Which is he? Scouts will be watching closely.

Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. Prior to winning the SEC tournament, it had been considered somewhat of a down year for the Wildcats. But they clearly are coming together at the perfect time, and Knox is a 6-9 forward who could fall in the Nos. 5-10 range of the draft. Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander is a point guard with size (6-6) and has climbed the charts ovewr the past few weeks. The tournament will likely determine if he climbs even higher.

Mohamed Bamba, Texas. Yet another 7-footer projected to fall within the 4-6 range of top picks. Bamba has great length and while raw offensively, could make an immediate NBA impact on defense. He is fun to watch and undoubtedly worth keeping an eye on should your team need a big with upside. And who doesn’t?

Colin Sexton, Alabama. The Crimson Tide point guard is quick, confident and coming off an excellent run in the SEC tournament. One scout told Amico Hoops he thinks Sexton “will be a better pro than De’Aron Fox and Lonzo Ball.” That’s some high praise, and Sexton could climb into a top-five draft choice depending on how he fares in the tourney.

Trae Young, Oklahoma. No player in the nation started with more buzz than the Sooners’ dynamic scoring and play-making point man. But he has tailed off a tad in recent weeks, and a lot of experts felt Oklahoma didn’t even deserve its at-large bid. Young is still likely a top-10 pick, but he’ll need a strong showing to move back into the top-three conversation.


Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova; Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami; Gary Trent Jr., SG, Duke; Robert Williams, PF, Texas; Khyri Thomas, PG/SG, Creighton; Daniel Gafford, PF/C, Arkansas; Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State; Jontay Porter, PF/C, Missouri; Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan; Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA; Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky; Austin Wiley, C, Auburn; Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova; Jaylen Adams, PG/SG, St. Bonaventure; Kendall Stephens, SG/SF, Nevada.


(Via March 11 Standings)

  1. Grizzlies
  2. Suns
  3. Mavericks
  4. Kings
  5. Hawks
  6. Cavaliers
  7. Magic
  8. Bulls
  9. Knicks
  10. Hornets
  11. Clippers
  12. 76ers
  13. Jazz
  14. Nuggets